For all of it's trappings of Cold War politics, 80s settings and technology, and espionage, at it's core, season one of The Americans revolves around one central question.
How much can I trust the person I share a bed with?
Spycraft and marriage have things in common. They’re both games of trust, of making decisions in the face of uncertainty and ambiguous evidence, games where reliable information is the most valuable currency.
Phillip and Elizabeth have been together over 20 years. But things keep coming up from new developments to old flames. Passion ebbs and flows.
And the questions keep coming up:
To what extent can one of us make unilateral decisions for what he/she believes is the other’s own good?
What is the statute of limitations on old lovers and the road not taken?
Can a lie told 20 years ago be used against us today?
What are you telling people outside our relationship about us? About me? Do those people have our best interests at heart?
Do the years we spent together count for something when things aren’t working now?
In a relationship where both of us are having sex with other people, what counts as a betrayal?
What do we tell the kids?
Perhaps the biggest question is this one:
What makes a marriage a marriage anyway?
Phillip and Elizabeth have made no official vows, gone through no ceremony. Their commitment is a professional requirement, not a personal commitment. They report to different bosses, have different priorities. They sleep with other people.
On the other hand, they live together, raise their children together, work together. Officially, they are married. They live a married life.
Is their marriage real? Some days it seems like it is. Some days it seems completely false. There are times they both believe what they have is real…but they don‘t always both believe it on the SAME days.
Like Syrio Forel, their’s is Schrodinger’s Marriage, not a lie, but not completely true either.
Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings spend their lives being pulled in many different directions. They are constantly trying to serve the demands of multiple masters from their bosses, to the other relationships in their lives, to each other, to the demands of their own conscience. They are two individuals trying to make their way in the world, juggling and balancing their needs with the conflicting needs of those around them.
And they’re trying to do those things while both depending and being dependent on another person who is walking a parallel, but different, tightrope of their own.
Which, I suppose, makes it as real as any other marriage out there.